Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Falklands, Penguins, Uruguayan Wine and Gauchos of Argentina

Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands, in particular Port Stanley on the East Island, is a favorite on most cruise ships' itineraries.  It's also close to a 50/50 shot of whether or not you can get there.  It's all about winds and weather, as it is a tender port.  Falklands is a British territory and has about 3,000 inhabitants.

The town of Port Stanley is really small, and quite quaint, with brightly colored roofs of houses dotting the skyscape.  It's a great little town in which to walk around, and there's nothing better than stopping in to a cafe to have a coffee or hot chocolate when it's cold and rainy outside.

East Falkland is host to several large rookeries of penguins - and the most sought after place for King penguins viewing is at a place called Volunteer Point.  It's a 2.5 hour 4x4 BUMPY ride away from the port, however.  That does not deter those who are determined to go, and if they do, they are richly rewarded, with incredible sights of these lovely penguins.

There are several other rookeries - Gentoos and Rockhoppers in particular, that do not require such an intensive trip to see.  Even though I was pretty much recovered from my surgery in December, I didn't relish the idea of spending 5 hours traipsing over bumpy bogs squeezed into a 4x4 Land Rover, so I opted instead for a 30 minute bumpy ride out to see the Gentoo penguins.  I did get to see a small family of Kings, but for the most part, there were seemingly miles and miles of the Gentoos.  It was a great trip, even though I didn't take the E ticket ride.

Iconic telephone booth - you know you're in British territory!

Christ Church Cathedral, the southernmost Anglican church in the world.
Those are whalebones in front, an arch made from blue whales.  It is there to remind us of the British rule of the Falklands, erected in 1933.

Random houses in the town

Landscape outside of the town, on our way to the rookery.

Close to the rookery, we saw these cows.  I call them Oreos.

Here is the little family of King penguins.

Well, this one had a lot to say!

This is molting season, so many of the penguins were just hanging out quietly.  They don't feed during this time, so they try to conserve their energy, until the molting is finished and then they head out to sea to feed.

Here's a good example of the molting process underway

 One of the Kings, with a baby

You don't want to mess around with the Land Rover drivers.

Saying goodbye to Port Stanley

One of several squid fishing ships in the harbour (spelling a nod to the Brits)

Our day in the Falklands is done.

Puerto Madryn, Argentina

One might ask why I would visit penguins two ports in a row.  But if you want to see penguins up close, and knowing that getting in to the Falklands is a 50/50 shot, you want to have a backup plan in place.  Girl Scouts motto:  "Be Prepared".  So another long trip out to see penguins was on the docket for today's port visit to Puerto Madryn.  This city lies on the northern coast of Patagonia and the Valdes Peninsula is where we will find the penguins, elephant seals and guanacos (a type of llama).

Again, it was a long ride out, but this time, no Land Rovers.  Only a bus.  And a comfy one at that.  The landscape was scrub brush and flat and brown - miles and miles of it.  I had cell and data service for about an hour of the 2.5 hour ride, so I was able to catch up on Facebook postings and emails for awhile.  As the cell service ran out, the scenery outside improved and soon we arrived at the rookery, on the edge of the coast.

No one was up and about this morning as I headed out for my morning 5k romp around the ship's promenade deck.

 The skies were changing as left the ship headed for Valdes.

An interesting sculpture near the port

Quiet streets

The landscape looked like this most of our drive out to see the penguins

A view back at the city

Good to see wind power being employed


I was not expecting the rookery to be so scrub brushy

In his burrow


Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo is the largest city of Uruguay, as well as the capital.  There's about 1.3 million people living here which equates to about 1/3 of the country's total population.  It has been consistently rated as having the "highest quality of life of any city in Latin America."  Hmmm.

Having visited the city 14 years ago, I did notice that things had changed a bit.  More buildings, more in the process of being built.  A humming economy.

Today's plan was to visit 2 wineries, via a private tour arranged by two other members of Cruise Critic, Karen and Joanne.  More about them later.  Let's just say for now that they helped me get into some "hot water" during the cruise.

Ryan Hamilton, from the Wine Experience, picked 5 of us up just outside the gates of the pier, and off we went in a minivan to the first winery - Bodegas Carrau, a family-owned boutique winery boasting 10 generations of historic wine making, established in 1752 in Catalona.

We toured some of the winery, and then set about for a lovely wine tasting.  Their Tannat is exceptional, as was one of the Sauvignon Blancs.

Most every process is done manually here.  It was harvest time, so we got to see a little bit of that process during our visit.

Stems and leaves left from the picking of the grapes.

I call this the juicer.

In the barrel room

A selection of their wines

Showing us the yeast sediment

It's time to taste!!!  Yippeee!!

Our second winery was Pizzorno, another family run business.  A small one, at that.  Only about 250 acres, if I recall correctly (after all, this was our SECOND winery of the day....)

The afternoon was threatening rain, but the grounds of the winery were so inviting nonetheless.

The flag of Uruguay

Inside where much of the magic happens

A particularly fine vintage

Bottles are hand washed and the labels applied manually

Let the tasting begin! (again)

After a thoroughly enjoyable 6 hours, Ryan dropped us back at the pier, where we crossed the street and ventured around the marketplace for a little bit.

And, finally, time to say goodbye.  Adios Montevideo!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our last and final stop - Buenos Aires.  It is the largest city in Argentina and the country's capital.  It is second only to Sao Paulo in terms of the size in South America.

First Mickie Dee's I'd seen the entire trip

The Estancia Santa Susana.  Land of gauchos.  Yes!

My new best friend.  Starer.

Gauchos "ponying" up for demo.

I've never seen a blue-eyed equine before.

See that white horse to my left?  That would be my steed a little later on!

Attempting to capture the ring

What a ham!!

These gauchos are all smiles!

Running for the ring!

Success!  And I got the ring and a kiss!

And there I am, sitting on a horse.  Been a very long time.

Time for food and drink and entertainment!

BBQ - we had beef, chicken, sausages, yum!

A mate demonstration.  It's a caffeine tea like drink made from the yerba mate leaves.  Very popular in Argentina.

Some of our side dishes - salads, potatoes, beets.

Speaking of beef.....

Water and wine.  What else do you need?

Well, a guacho to serve you would be fine too....

I took this "rear" shot to show the gaucho's belt - those are coins affixed to the back of his belt, called a tirador. Gauchos are Argentina's cowboys, a the term comes from the word "huachu" meaning orphan, or homeless.  A solitary man, makes his living on the land, living on asado and mate.

Some tango.

And a little dancing entertainment for your viewing pleasure:

Well, our day is done.  Back at the ship, I took a shower, had a snack, and then, having packed the night before, I left the ship early to get to the airport to fly to Sao Paulo, where I would be spending a week with Mariana and her family.  I've known Mariana for close to 15 years now.  She lived with us as an exchange student in 2001, and came to be with us just one week after 9/11.  She and her family are my extended family now and she had her first child last summer - Pietra.

Some closing thoughts on the cruise

This was my second time visiting South America via a cruise, and my 4th time visiting South America.  There's still lots more to see and do, so I will be returning at some point.

This time the cruise extended to Antarctica, which was one of my main reason, well, okay, THE main reason I wanted to take the cruise again.  It's not every day you can just toddle on down to the southernmost continent on this great Earth.  I was not disappointed.  It is an incredible place to witness, to feel, to absorb.  Pictures just cannot do it justice.  I would urge you to go if you are at all interested.  You can go via a cruise, a research expedition, you can even get a job and work there, or go as a science intern.  All things are possible.

I met a lot of new people, as I always do on my cruises.  People ask me all the time, "don't you get lonely cruising alone?"  I say nope a doodle!  I meet too many people and always make new friends.  Speaking of new friends, I met Karen and Joanne the first hour on the ship.  We had emailed back and forth a few times prior to the cruise, arranging some private tours and coordinating things as part of our cruise critic roll call group, and, right before we arrived in Chile, we had exchanged photos in an email.  That proved to be quite helpful, when, as I was sitting up in the Crow's Nest waiting for my cabin to be ready, shortly after boarding, two women came and sat down at a table next to me.  All of a sudden, I look up and one of them looked at me and said "Sherita?".  OMG.  It was Karen and Joanne!    Anyway, we became fast friends and ended up sharing a dinner table most every night.  Karen is from San Diego so she's in California territory like me, and Joanne is from Chicago.  They actually met one another and became friends quite some years ago, also on a cruise.  I really enjoyed spending time with them and it would be awesomely wonderful to be able to join them in the future on another cruise.

While my balcony cabin was super nice and located in a quiet area near the aft of the ship (my favorite place to be), I did run into a minor cabin had no hot water!!!  It was, at best, tepid.  When it's 30 degrees outside, you don't want to get into a tepid shower, nuh uh, no way, not gonna happen.  At first I thought, well, I'm taking a shower when everyone else is, so the hot water is being shared?  Nope.  So I complained.  And complained and complained.  And then I complained some more.  Plumbers came.  Plumbers went.  Nothing worked to fix the problem.  This is where Karen and Joanne came to my rescue.  They offered to let me shower in their cabin.  See what I mean about making friends?  It's such a good thing.  I am grateful to them both.  In the end, the cruise line, while never able to give me hot water, got themselves out of hot water and provided me with some compensation for the problem.  They did the right thing and kept a long-time customer from "jumping ship" to another cruise line.

If you go to South America, or at least to Chile and Argentina, please do try to go out and see some penguins, up close and personal.  They're amazing birds, and so unafraid of humans.  You won't be disappointed and visiting with them will leave you with a big smile on your face.

The food was good, the service great, the weather phenomenal.  Temperatures ranged from the high 80's in Santiago and Buenos Aires to the high 20's in Antarctica.  These swings make for careful and thoughtful packing.  And generally require a second, smaller piece of luggage to hold the cold weather stuff - coat, mittens, scarves, hat, etc.

I'm going back - 2018.  They've got a cool 67 day trip that starts and ends in Florida, so no long international flights, and visits Antarctica again (yay!) as well as a ride up through the Amazon.  There will also be lots of new ports and cities I haven't visited yet, so hang in there with me, check back in 2018 for an update!

I've got more trips planned though, before then.  Next up, next month, will be a 35 day trip from San Diego to Hawaii, the Marquesas and French Polynesia, with a return to Seattle.  In August, I'm spending 2 weeks in Alaska.  And more after that........

Ciao for now!

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